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syllogism comments on Prospect Theory: A Framework for Understanding Cognitive Biases - Less Wrong

66 Post author: Yvain 10 July 2011 05:20AM

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Comment author: syllogism 10 July 2011 06:37:09AM 25 points [-]

I've been meaning to make a post about this small procedural note. Singular they has a long history in English as a gender-neutral third person singular pronoun. Languages tend to resist the introduction of new pronouns, as they're "closed class" --- part of the language's grammar. It's especially problematic that nobody can even agree on which invented pronoun to get behind!

Can't we all just use singular they? It's much nicer.

Comment author: Yvain 10 July 2011 06:58:44AM *  31 points [-]

Okay, okay, I'll use singular they if you all promise that the first time someone pompously chides me for using "they" in the singular, you'll give them at least as much trouble as you're giving me for using gender-neutral third person pronouns.

Comment author: syllogism 10 July 2011 08:34:06AM *  10 points [-]

Deal. I'll even pull rank with my formal qualifications on English grammar, should they care about that.

Comment author: Yvain 12 July 2011 08:45:47PM *  2 points [-]

Question for the formally qualified grammarian: When using singular "they", which is correct?

  1. "When a person is biased, they make mistakes"

  2. "When a person is based, they makes mistakes"

The second sounds absolutely horrible, but if singular "they" is really being used as a singular in the same sense as "he" or "she", it sounds like it ought to be correct.

Comment author: Morendil 12 July 2011 08:58:23PM *  5 points [-]

Have a gander at Language Log where the "singular they" has been extensively discussed - mostly, apparently, because it's something of a litmus test to determine whether someone is a descriptivist or a prescriptivist grammarian; the LL crowd falling squarely in the descriptivist camp.

The short answer is that it's grammatically plural; it's a "plural of indeterminacy of number" primarily, and has taken on under social pressure an aspect of "plural of indeterminacy of gender". Number one is correct.

ETA: background info.

Comment author: syllogism 17 July 2011 11:31:27PM 4 points [-]


When you, Yvain, are biased, you make mistakes

Clearly in the 2nd person singular, the verb displays "plural" agreement. It's the same for "they".

Comment author: Will_Newsome 10 July 2011 10:04:59AM 10 points [-]

Indeed I shall so chide. It's not so much that "ey" and the like bother me, it's mostly that Less Wrong might become one of the first communities where people can use singular they without flinching due to vague anticipation of undue contempt. Such trivial inconveniences add up very quickly for a certain kind of mind, like mine.

Comment author: [deleted] 15 February 2012 07:36:50PM 1 point [-]

Well, I don't anticipate undue contempt when using the singular they on Language Log, either. :-)

Comment author: drethelin 10 July 2011 06:47:26PM 2 points [-]

I like singular they, but I also think ze is better than ey because it looks less like a cut-off other word

Comment author: [deleted] 10 July 2011 06:58:47AM 5 points [-]

I agree. Singular they is so awesome.